When I Was Confused About “Sexy” Toothpaste

When I was at Target a couple weeks ago, I stopped in the toothpaste aisle and quickly scanned for the lowest price. On the bottom shelf, I saw that Aqua Fresh was on sale (I can’t remember now — maybe $1 or $1.50 per tube?), and I picked up a double pack.

As I stood in the checkout line I had a memory run through my head: for most of my childhood, I was under the impression that Aqua Fresh toothpaste had something to do with sex. I didn’t really know what sex was and had never been given the birds and bees lecture, so I’m not sure what I thought Aqua Fresh did exactly. I just thought of it in the sex category — and understood that it should make me blush in the same way other words I didn’t understand, but knew were sex-related (like orgasm or erection), made me blush.

Like, if I had been at the grocery store with my mom, and there had been Aqua Fresh in our cart, and we had stopped to talk with a friend (with the Aqua Fresh just sitting there!! visible in our cart!!!), I would have been mortified. Luckily, Aqua Fresh was never in our grocery cart — I assume because it was too expensive or too fancy or just not my mom’s preferred brand — so I never had to face that particular humiliation. : )

Why did I think Aqua Fresh was a sex product? I can only imagine it was because there was some sexy Aqua Fresh commercial I’d seen as a kid. Though I did a quick search for 80’s Aqua Fresh commercials and they all seem to be family-focused, so… who knows where I actually got this weird idea from? (By the way, if you’re in the mood for a dose of nostalgia, try this 80’s advertisement Pinterest board.)

The Aqua Fresh memory got me thinking about other misconceptions or misunderstandings or just general-lack-of-knowledge I had as a kid.

Another example: When I was five, we moved from California to St. George, Utah, and I grew up there. It’s at the very southwest corner of the state and the Mormon Pioneers who settled the area, and attempted to grow cotton there, called it Utah’s Dixie. Because of this, the local college is Dixie College. My high school was Dixie High School. “Dixie” is proudly painted in white on the Red Rock hill in town. I grew up singing the song “I wish I was in Dixie“.

And the whole time I was under the impression that Dixie was a Mormon/St. George word. I did not understand that the song, the word Dixie, the cotton — all of it — was a direct reference to the American South and the Confederacy.

I swear I was a good student in high school — but I did not get the very clear Confederate connection of Dixie until I was in college. Yikes. As you can imagine, I was stunned and embarrassed to have been so oblivious. I suppose the Mormon culture was so strong when I was growing up in St. George, that it simply superseded everything else.

How about you? Do you have any memories of being confused about a product? Or have you ever thought something was sexual that definitely wasn’t? Or had an “a ha!” moment about something you’d totally misunderstood before? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — Our local Target is undergoing huge renovations right now — but is still open. Every time I go in, there’s a new maze of shelves. The dairy aisle might be next to the throw pillows. The toilet paper over by the electronics. I admit, I’ve found it kind of charming — at least when I’m not in a hurry. It feels like an adventure. : )

65 thoughts on “When I Was Confused About “Sexy” Toothpaste”

  1. I was in college before I learned that it’s the Pulitzer Prize – not the Pulit SURPRISE! (which sounds prestigious AND festive).

    1. My mishearing was my dad’s work place. I thought it was called “sugary search” as though they were trying to work out how to find sugar. Lightbulb moment came when i could eventually read the big letters on the building: sugar research institute.

    1. Oh yes, I am curious about an update too.

      Growing up, I thought Aqua Fresh was for fancy adults and Colgate and Crest were for cheap families. Ha ha. I never thought the fancy adults were getting sexy with the toothpaste though. :)

  2. I would always look at the magazine covers at the library and Cosmopolitan was always very sexy and it would certainly draw my attention. One time when I was maybe 12 I mentioned that I saw something on the cover of “Cosmopolitician” and my mom burst out laughing. I was so embarrassed and felt like a baby!
    In about 9th grade a friend (from church!) gave me a poster with a shirtless man holding a shirt on a hanger. It said “Well Hung”. I had no idea what it was referring to until much later in life! I knew my mom didn’t like the poster but she didn’t make me take it down! Gross!

  3. When I was five, my family went to Seattle to visit relatives. We also drove up to Vancouver, BC. I’m not sure why, but we ended up in Chinatown. So, for many years, I thought Canada and China were the same place, or at the very least, connected by a land bridge of some sort. 🤦🏻‍♀️

  4. Growing up my mom, who had a bit of an accent, called Highway Patrol officers the Hawaii Patrol.

    As a kid, I always wondered why we had to bring police officers all the way from Hawaii!

  5. When I was about 7 I asked my mom for a virgin for Christmas, because I thought “virgin” was the word for a baby lion, sort of like “fawn” is what we call a baby deer.
    It was all because of the then-new “Like a Virgin” video by Madonna on MTV, which featured Madonna, a lion, and a guy in a lion mask running around Venice.
    I didn’t know what a virgin was, but the song says it’s being “touched for the very first time,” so that meant it was obviously a baby lion, right? This was confirmed by my Sunday school classes, which taught me that Jesus was like both the lion and the lamb, and the fact that in the song “Silent Night” are the words, “round yon virgin.” To my mind, that meant baby Jesus was like a baby lion, aka a “virgin.”
    In any case, the big thing I remember getting for Christmas that year was permanently grounded from watching MTV, haha.

    1. I love this so much – there are so many references to the “virgin birth” around Christmas and I had no idea what anyone was talking about for many many many years.

      1. Oh mercy! I love this story because I work in the children’s church (“Primary” if you’re LDS) and ya, L O T S of kids get all sorts of ideas of what exacted a virgin is – and it’s both hilarious and relatable! One leader tried to explain that “a virgin is a woman who isn’t married” -which was even more confusing because, well Mary and Joseph *were* married… any who one of the kids who was listening latched on to that definition and a few months later proclaimed that a certain rock star had decided to be a virgin…because the star had decided to live with their partner rather than get married! oooh-boy! What we do to kids sometimes! hahah!

    2. Hahaha, that’s hilarious!

      PC’s story reminded me of a coworker’s 6 year-old daughter who was driving somewhere with her Dad and asked him what a virgin was. Bless his heart, he’s just a good ol’ country boy and was COMPLETELY caught off guard, so he muttered something about “it’s a girl that a boy hasn’t messed with yet.” (I know, I KNOW)

      BUT, SHE then says, “Oh, guess I’m not a virgin then!” (because boys had “messed with” – ie: teased, chased, played with – her at school). She got a better explanation later, but imagining his face throughout the whole conversation CRACKS ME UP to this day.

    3. Round yon virgin … when I was a kid I was pretty sure that must be a reference to a street. Like everyone was ’round Yon Virgin.

  6. When I was a kid, we read aloud in class every day. The teacher called it oral reading. So, when I was an early teen (before I knew much about sex beyond the very basics), I thought oral sex was just talking dirty to each other.

  7. Not aqua fresh but I was SURE close up toothpaste was only for sexy adults. I was once scandalized when my parents bought some and suggested I use it. Even the picture I’m the box was two adults pretty much kissing. So funny! I’d forgotten that completely – thank you for the smile :)

    1. YAS! If I had to pick a sexy 80s toothpaste brand it would be Close-up. I think that was definitely their marketing angle.

      I loved Aqua Fresh it was such a mild minty flavour and I feel like they were the first to do that cool (from a kid perspective) stand-up tube.

  8. The commercial for Rice-A-Roni seemed so metropolitan to this North Dakota farm girl. We never bought processed foods and, in my mind, why would? We were not from California. It was only for those from SF because the commercial said so… Rice-A-Roni was a “San Francisco treat.”

  9. I remember playing Pictionary with my sisters and brother, Mom and her new husband- about 30 years ago. I had to draw Adam’s Apple and was mortified. I though it was a penus hanging between two testicles! But I did draw it and continue to be mocked for life!

  10. I seriously thought Lynda Carter was President Carter’s daughter. I thought it was so cool that Wonder Woman’s dad was president. Haha. :)

    1. I relate to this so much! I grew up having a problem with conflating famous names. I really believed Warren Buffet and Jimmy Buffet were the same person until like… the end of high school? Yikes! I thought he made his fortune from the song Margaritaville.

      I also thought that Ethan and Tony Hawk were the same person. It made sense to me that he would give us his skateboarding career to settle down and act in his old age??

  11. I remember deciding that we must have glass bottles of blood inside our bodies. I had heard terms like “a pint of blood” and the only thing I knew that came in pints was milk, in a glass bottle from a milk man. So, it made sense in my little girl mind that our blood was stored in bottles in our arms, legs, stomach, etc. When we fell, we bled because one of our bottles of blood had broken inside during the fall, and was now seeping out. I tried to account for everything…but I couldn’t figure out how the bottle was repaired when it broke. My misconception was corrected when I asked for how the bottle was fixed after I fell one time and the bleeding stopped. But my parents still bring it up!

      1. I used to think breaking your arm was akin to severing it. I thought the cast was literally holding the broken-off arm (or leg) onto the rest–almost like tape?

  12. I shouldn’t admit this, but it wasnt until I was 35 years old that I realized the game is called ‘Uno’ because you say it when you have ONE card left. Uno/one–somehow this incredibly obvious connection didnt happen until embarrassingly late in life.

  13. Throughout my childhood (and to be honest into college) I thought people were saying “Anne Frankly” instead of “and frankly” because Anne was an honest girl who kept a journal and it made all the sense in the world.

    1. “because Anne was an honest girl who kept a journal and it made all the sense in the world.” This made my day!

  14. I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, where we frequently drove on highways- 494, 35W, 100. The highways all had frontage roads signs indicating the road running parallel to them and had signs showing how to get onto the “ frontage road” – as they were called. My sister told me that when she was young, she thought Frontage Road was one really , really long road- that they were somehow all connected.

  15. I thought all people were “human beans” for longer than I probably should have as a young child. My two older brothers loved it and laughed and sniggered at me for years while I continued to be oblivious to the reason.

  16. My mom always cut my sandwich for lunch diagonal. My “rich” friend Jenny always had hers cut vertical. I thought wealthy people must cut their sandwich that way and poor people cut it diagonal.
    Ps. My husband thought the exact opposite as his mom cut his sandwich vertical.

  17. When I was little my mom brought home a succulent in a terra-cotta pot shaped like a chicken.
    For the longest time I was sure this “chicken pot” was responsible for the chicken pox I got a few days later!

  18. Julia g blair

    Fun to remember some of our “PRE-LITERATE” understanding.
    I thought “Cherish Virture” in one of our hymns was “Cherries Hurt You!”
    My husband understood: “There’s a multitude of children all around” as
    “There’s a monkey chasing children all around!”

  19. Growing up, every morning, my mom would make herself a cup of coffee and make my father some tea. My mother never drank tea and my father never drank coffee. I grew up thinking that was the way of the world. Women drank coffee and men drank tea and never the twain shall meet.

  20. When I was 10 years old I was devastated to hear on the radio that “Herman Munster” had died in a plane crash. I was so upset because The Munsters was one of my favorite shows at the time. I have to admit I was a bit relieved when my older brother told me that it was actually Thurman Munson, the baseball player, who had died.

  21. My parents sold our house around my 5th birthday. Coincidentally – and it’s a small town – we bought the house of the people to whom we sold our place.

    I thought you just switch houses. Like, the new one was bigger, so I figured there was some money traded, but yeah….I thought you had to find someone to trade houses with. Seemed complicated, even as a kid.

    Also, found out about oral sex from the Starr report. :|

  22. When riding the bus to school as a child, I couldn’t understand why, despite all the driving, we never got closer to Capa City. It was always 72 miles away.

    I finally realized the sign I was reading was noting the “capacity” of the bus as 72 students!

  23. I am totally ashamed to share mine as they speak to my privilege and lack of awareness. When I was in high school (freshman year, so I was 14), I went to a new friends house for the first time. She and her mom and sister lived in an apartment. After I had been there awhile I asked her when they were moving into their house. She asked me what house? And I explained how apartments were temporary for college students and then you get a house. She very graciously told me about poverty and that the system didn’t quite work like I imagined it did. I felt awful. Thankfully I didn’t say anymore as at that time I thought that anyone who worked in retail or a restaurant was just putting themselves through college. I was from a middle class family and had a lot to learn (and still do) about privilege and what the real world is like.

  24. When I was a kid, I knew that my grandpa was a “recovering alcoholic,” and I knew that meant he wasn’t supposed to drink. One day I found a bunch those little packets labeled “alcohol prep pads” (like in a first aid kit or what they wipe you with before you get a vaccine), and I was convinced that he was preparing to drink alcohol. I stole one and showed it to my mom with fierce whispers about finding it in Gramps’s truck. It took forever for her to understand what I was worried about. Ha!

  25. Until I was 29 I thought it was perfectly legal to cross the road at a red light as a pedestrian. I thought the traffic lights were only a recommendation for us.
    I think it was, because the city I grew up in was super liberal, and absolutely nobody would stop at a red light if it wasn’t necessary. You would even junp a red light in front of a police car for example. Only when I moved to a different city I learned very quickly (by the police) that it was actually not allowed. I am from Germany and this makes it even more crazy, because we have this reputation for following rules and stopping at red lights but I guess I grew up in a different bubble.

  26. I remember being so embarrassed when I found out, well into high school, that “Hallelujah” was a very famous song by Leonard Cohen and didn’t originate on the Shrek soundtrack as I had believed up until that moment!

  27. When my daughter was learning to read, she transposed the letters in ‘lip balm’, calling it ‘lip BLAM’. She asked if her lips might explode if she used my Carmex.

    We call it that still, more than 20 years later. Blam. Still makes me laugh.

  28. All of these have me rolling! Best comment thread on a post EVER!

    My sister thought that “chump change” was “jump change”. And she also thought “shit faced” was “chip faced”. Who doesn’t want to just get chip faced, ya know?

  29. magnoliachica

    These are so fun!! I was into my 20s, maybe my 30s, before I started wondering why my area of Virginia used the name “Seminole” for some places. US Route 29 is the Seminole Trail and I played sports in high school in the Seminole District. But the Seminole Indians never lived there. Ever. And the local tribe is the Monacans. ???

  30. I’m DYING over some of these! I have a 2-year old, so we have a lot of malapropisms and funny words around our house.

    I thought jackalopes were real animals for, like, EVER. Until college. But I’m from Colorado and taxidermy bunnies with antlers glued on are everywhere in mountain towns and gift shops. It never occurred to me to look closely and it never occurred to anyone else that I could be so gullible. Good times, parents.

    My toddler currently pronounces motorcycle as “motor-kike-ul” and it’s too dang cute. I don’t have the heart to correct her.

  31. The movie Grease came out in theaters in 1978. I was 8 years old. My parents took me (and my 4 older sisters) to see it. I don’t think they knew a lot about the movie and didn’t realize it wasn’t appropriate for an 8 year old. During the movie I’m sure they were hoping that the sexual content was going over my head. And it must have been because it was only years later that I realized that they really shouldn’t have taken me to see that movie. Anyway, after hearing the song “Beauty School Drop Out” in the movie I leaned over and asked my dad what a hooker was (that word was in the song). Flustered my dad whispered “it’s a very very bad girl.” 🤦🏻‍♀️ Oh my! I still laugh about that.

  32. You know how at the beginning of movies it used to say “this film has been formatted to fit this screen”? I asked my mom how it was possible that the same sized vhs tapes could accommodate for so many different sized tv screens. She brought it up at a youth activity and everyone laughed and I was so embarrassed, and also confused because no one had actually ever answered my question! haha

  33. When I was 8 or 9 I went to a friend’s birthday sleepover and we watched Dirty Dancing which had just come out on VHS. When my mom picked me up the next morning I couldn’t wait to tell her about this amazing movie we watched. My mom didn’t miss a beat, straight faced and completely nonchalant she asked me what the movie was about. I told her it was about a girl who went to summer camp and learned how to dance. With a sigh of relief she said it sounded like a fun movie. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and rewatching Dirty Dancing that I realized what the movie is really about and that my mom was digging to see how much I knew about sex and the themes in the movie. I still love Dirty Dancing, some day I want to go to summer camp and have Patrick Swayze teach me to dance. 😉

    1. When I was little, my older cousins were talking about a movie called Dirty Dancing and they told me I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I literally thought it was about people who were dancing in the mud and getting dirty…I didn’t understand why I couldn’t watch it with them!

  34. When I was little, satellite tv was just starting up. For an embarrassingly long time I thought that people who worked /read the news on satellite channels had to physically travel to the studio IN the satellite every day. It sounded like a fun commute.

  35. When I was little, I thought being “grounded” meant your parents dug a hole and put you in it. I pictured standing there with dirt up to my neck. I wa horrified when people told me they had been grounded for a week! I would always say “My parents never ground me!”

    On a more serious note, for years I was terrified that god would choose me for a “virgin birth.” I grew up in a very strict Catholic family, who always talked about how wonderful that was for Mary. I literally thought I could get pregnant at any second. Soooo many more things to say about all this, –especially as an adult who is not Catholic and a parent– but I just wanted to thank you for all your discussions about religion and feminism and abortion. You have put into words SO many of the complicated feelings I have about it all.

  36. I grew up in the 1980s, when the war on drugs was a big talking point. So I was extremely confused as to how there were drugstores. I mean, many of them even said “DRUGS” on the sign! Like, how was this allowed?

  37. These are really fun!

    Here’s my contribution: So this is kind of random, but when I was maybe 8 years old, that song “Afternoon Delight” used to play on the radio a lot. I liked the song, and one day I asked my mom what “afternoon delight” was. Caught off guard, she just kind of said, “I’m not sure….”

    For some reason, I always thought the song was about hot air balloons. Like, I guess that’s what you would do on a delightful afternoon — go for a ride in a rainbow-colored hot air balloon. To this day, in the infrequent moments that I hear that song, I still think, “Oh, it’s that song about hot air balloons.”

  38. I had a teenage babysitter who I was in awe of because she was so hip.
    She would often have friends over while she was watching me at her house. One day I asked them what they were doing, and she told me they were making homemade cigarettes. It was the early 70s and my dad smoked so this sort of made sense to my 6-year old self. I always thought it was so cool that she made her own cigarettes instead of buying them at the store like my dad. It was only many years later that I realized that she and her friends had really been rolling up joints — AND that I was under the care of a high sitter! I guess deep down I knew something was off because I never mentioned the homemade cigs to my parents :)

  39. Some great stories here!! For me, I was roughly kindergarten-age when the Gulf War happened. For some reason, I thought the war was happening in the Gulf of Mexico (because that was the only Gulf I was familiar with, I suppose?). I remember being confused about why nobody seemed to be particularly bothered about it, given that it was happening so close to the US. It wasn’t until high school that I realized my error…

  40. My dad had had his two front teeth knocked out while playing hockey as a teenager, so he wore a removable plate with two false front teeth attached to it. He removed it whenever he brushed his teeth. Unaware that his real teeth had been knocked out, as a young child I believed that one of the differences between men and women was that men could remove their front teeth at will. I remember feeling greatly annoyed that males could do this and females couldn’t.

  41. I received some (otherwise) matter of fact talks about how puberty is when “whore moans” cause a lot of changes in your body. I mentally connected puberty, pornography and losing one’s virginity with all the raging whore moans everyone was always talking about… It… kind of? … made sense…?

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